Dr. Stefanie Höhl

Getting attuned: Social rhythms and synchrony in early human development

Caregiver-infant interactions are characterized by interpersonal rhythms at different timescales, from nursery rhymes and interactive games to daily routines. These rhythms make the social environment more predictable for young children and facilitate interpersonal biobehavioral synchrony with their caregivers. In adults, the brain rhythms of interaction partners entrain to communicative rhythms, including speech, supporting mutual comprehension and communication. I will present recent evidence that this is also the case in the infant brain, especially when babies are addressed directly by their caregiver through infant-directed speech in naturalistic interactions. Through using simultaneous measures of neural and physiological rhythms, e.g., dual-fNIRS and dual-ECG, from caregiver and infant during live face-to-face interactions, we can further deepen our understanding of early interactional dynamics and their reciprocal nature. I will present our recent research identifying factors supporting the establishment of caregiver-infant neural synchrony, such as affectionate touch and vocal turn-taking. I will further discuss the functional links and dissociations between caregiver-infant synchrony on the neural and physiological levels. Both aspects of social synchrony are enhanced in a face-to-face interaction compared to non-interactive contexts. Yet, in contrast to neural synchrony, physiological synchrony between caregiver and infant is primarily related to infant affect. I will outline potential implications of this work and point out important future directions.

Bio: Prof. Stefanie Höhl is a Professor of Developmental Psychology at the University of Vienna, and heads the Research Unit of Developmental Psychology and the Wiener Kinderstudien lab. Her research focuses on social and cognitive development in early childhood.

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